Can We Protect Children From Their Parents?
How could anybody think it was justified by their religion to stick sewing needles into a child’s body?
Now according to the news story, the (obligatory) academic expert said there were no potentially harmful rituals in Candomble, the most popular of the Afro-Brazilian religions. This statement ranks right up there with, “Hey, Columbus – don’t go too far or you’ll fall off the edge of the world!”
Someone is obviously worried about prejudice against the Afro-Brazilian religions. Me, I am more worried about the sanctity of human life.
Well, this religion was condemned by the Catholic Church back before the 19th century. Actually, this means to me it must not be all bad, since the Catholic Church has condemned many things I think are useful or necessary, such as abortion, divorce, and erotic movies — upon which I will comment no further right now.
Candomble is called also “Animism,” a term which appeals to me because it sounds disarmingly rich, like something from the tradition of Carl Jung, the seminal psychologist, who (among other things) venerated the richness of cross-cultural traditions. Anyone who died nearly 50 years ago and has inspired such a rich following has got to be good stuff, and he is. After all, when psychology was young, he thought it was a most excellent occupation for women. I would love him for that even had he never said another word – and he contributed plenty of other ideas that have proved helpful.
Back to Candomble. About 1.5% of the Brazilian population espouses this religion. Religions are not mutually exclusive in Brazil, so there may be crossover. There are people who came from Africa originally and “nations” with some kind of a matrilineal organization.
In the face of historical persecution, there are some elements in common with Christianity, like saints and such. No, I can’t find any signs of destructive rituals. But I do find signs of deities that make their presences known by inducing trances in the believer and here, I think, is where the problem lies. Obviously I wanted to know more about this religion. After poking around my dear internet, I discovered it is a form of — would you believe — voodoo.
This religion was repressed, apparently, during colonial times but found revived life (pardon the pun) in Hollywood horror movies.
Religious freedom is great. Causing other people harm in the name of religion is a very serious crime. It is not my job to try and differentiate between real and “fake” religion. I do know that what people believe tends to be the outline for their lives. There is one child in Brazil whose life is dependent on the creativity of pediatric surgeon at extracting sewing needles from parts of the anatomy that are essential to life. That is one child too many.
But what about people who refuse lifesaving care to their own children on religious grounds? Is this any different? Is this any better? Unfortunately, people’s abilities to abuse children seem to increase the more I read about them or look for them. They are amazing, and I believe abuse to be the rule rather than its exception.
The whole question, for example, of Jehovah’s witnesses and declining blood transfusions takes on a deeper meaning when a child is involved. Another memory from when I was aged 18 or so, working as a lowly receptionist in a big-city emergency room — a child known to be from a Jehovah’s Witness family came in from an auto accident and was potentially mortally injured and needed blood. This was before I was a fearless doctor – and my only skills with trauma patients was searching their clothing for insurance cards.
I never knew what happened with that particular child. I can safely bet that courts were involved. That seems to be a doctor’s curse.
But later, after I’d finished medical school and during my surgical internship, I was involved in a similar case. I was on call (it seems like you are always on call while an intern) and handed my clipboard to the senior administrator, who signed the papers for the transfusion. I will never forget what he said. “Let’s save the kid’s life now and let them sue us later.” From that moment I venerated this man for teaching me what really matters.
A lot of people have killed a lot of other people in the name of religion. The first thing that comes to my mind is the Crusades. You remember the Crusades (Crusades I and the sequel some years later, Crusades II)? It was in all the papers (or at least the history books. Christianity going after non-Christians. Does this story sound familiar? (Whoops; I think somebody is doing it again.) Things like that are hard to stop. Let’s think about people one at a time.
1. My senior administrator when I was in an Emergency Room and new to this business was my hero. I don’t care what parents do or believe. A kid who does not know better has got to be saved. In those ancient days when I was 18, not yet a doctor, and working in an Emergency Room, I venerated the idea that an institution could come up with a sort of advocate-guardian for the situation. We need those now, for any and all kinds of situations where religious beliefs could lead to death. People don’t have the right to kill each other. They especially do not have the right to kill young innocents, no matter what they believe. The preservation of the species, the most basic commonsense human rights, must come before parents’ belief systems.
2. Some religions, including (apparently) Candomble, have trances. Trances are useful and pleasant in many ways. I think people who stare at the television without question and absorb its content are in a sort of trance. People can live trances in great intensity. They can look clinically like a variety of things. Sometimes they look like sleep. Nobody who is a child should have a person in charge of their well-being who is in a trance. This story of the child in Brazil sounds like a pretty deep trance. Nobody would think of being responsible for the welfare of a child while they were asleep or in some kind of altered consciousness. How on earth can a person in any kind of a (probably deep) trance take responsibility for a child? Common sense is pretty tough to legislate. After all, should we have to pass laws that you shouldn’t drive on the sidewalk or take a gun to school? So in that spirit, I would like to see a law that required people who are taking responsibility for a child have somebody else to spot them if they are in trance or otherwise having disturbances of consciousness. At this point, anybody who is foolish, chemically impaired, insane or just plain evil can have a child and do almost anything they want to it.
3. They don’t give you a license to have a child. As my mother of blessed memory said, “They don’t give you a guidebook. You just have to do the best you can.” (Of course, she was convinced she had messed me up totally. Proof parents ought not to trust their own assessments.)
Look at what is going on here. Religious freedom is lovely. Hurting other people is not lovely. I hate to defer the differentiation between the two to the courts, but that is probably the best solution we have at this time.
I hear cries, internationally, nationally, even locally to save and take care of our children — to preserve our species. Somebody, in Brazil and here also, needs to dump the political polemic about “caring for our children” and try to really do it. I know there are some child advocate groups that are really trying. But all of the groups known to me look at chronically abused children.
I do not know who looks at protecting children from uninformed, unwise, parents. The Brazilians do not have a monopoly on them.